Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Open Space

Too much open space is too freaky deaky for me. When I drive across these large expanses of land where there are no buildings, no people, nothing but open land from horizon to horizon, it is just as freaky as being out on the water with no land in sight from any direction.

I have come to realize that I am one who is much more comfortable in urban environs. A public park is a nice amount of open space as far as I am concerned. I like being around people. I like watching people when I am in public spaces.

Of course, not everyone thinks this way, and that is how the west got settled. A couple generations back, I had uncles who came out west to work on ranches, and eventually own them. I remember one uncle telling me how he didn't have any neighbors for 20 miles in any direction and he liked it that way.

But others of you who are reading this may have had one of those incidents in their past when your car broke down in the middle of nowhere and you could do nothing but sit and wonder when someone might stop who would be able to help you.

That happened to me when I was moving from Los Angeles to Atlanta. I had just passed through Barstow and the sign that lets you know that there are no services for the next hundred miles. And yes, 50 miles beyond that was where my car decided to quit running. Barstow is one of those town on the edge of nowhere. Once you leave it, you head into high desert. Nothing but rocks, sand, little shrubs, cactus and rattlesnakes for as far as the eye can see.

The best thing I can say about this kind of landscape is that it is one place where you can set your cruise control for 90 mph and not worry about getting a speeding ticket.

So I was standing by my broke down car, wondering when a cop or tow truck or any kind of help might wander by. I had some water, but there was nothing resembling shade and the sun was relentless.

Finally, a young man on a motorcycle pulled up behind me. He told me that he had been riding his motorcycle around the country and he was tired of it. So he told me that he would give me a ride back to Barstow so that we could find some help.

Of course, this was back in the day before cell phones had been invented and there are no pay phones in the middle of nowhere. And as uncomfortable as I am riding on the back of a motorcycle, it beat frying out in the desert. This was also way back when gas stations still had mechanics who could fix cars. I know that some of my younger readers might think that gas stations were always convenience stores, but no, once upon a time gas stations were also called service stations because their business included servicing and repairing cars.

So we found a gas station that also had a tow truck and they went out and hauled my car back 50 miles and then I got to sit around waiting all day while they found parts to fix it with. The young man parked his motorcycle there and just left it, and we were driving back through Oklahoma when a blizzard hit, the roads were icy and interstate traffic was suddenly going a whole 10 mph. For those of you who enjoy such contrasts, that probably would have been a regular Disneyland of the senses.

Fortunately, I got out my little black book and looked up a woman I knew in Oklahoma and she let us stay the night. By morning plows had made headway on the snow and we continued on east. We just kept on going until we found arrived in the humid, verdant south, and did that ever feel good.

I know that others of you may be like my uncles and feel that wandering around in places where everywhere you look in any direction is nothing but miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.

We each have to find our comfort zones and mine is definitely in a town or a city where there are people all around, and normal life consists of places where a person can stop and meditate on the joy and beauty of being with others even if you are alone. There is comfort in human interactions and I find navigating a sea of people far easier and more preferable, no matter how difficult it can be at times, than being in a place of all landscape and no people.

Now being a resident of the west once again, my life has opened up in unexpected ways, and I feel that the towns on the front range of the Rockies have a different kind of spirit of adventure. This mix of hippies and cowboys, enclaves of eastern religions in the midst of evangelicals, artists and musicians mining the territory that used to be populated by gold rushers and those who want to drill and mine anywhere and everywhere are interspersed with the snowboarders, triathletes and people whose idea of heaven is to trek up and down every 14er they can find.

This heady mixture makes for a strange brew perched between endless open spaces and urban developments. And for the last several years and who knows how many more years to come, it has been very invigorating.

This is one of those moments when remembering the past can lead forward, even if it is not clear what going forward means or where exactly it leads.

There are lifetimes within lifetimes. Sometimes, it feels like what Hemingway said at the end of one of his books "all of this happened long ago and in another country" even though we know we are still in this same country and long ago can often resemble the present, although we may have these moments when the present may feel like exploring the unknown, the open spaces, no matter how big or small they are.

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